Advertisement

Veteran newsman James M. Schurz dies at 76

June 10, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- James M. Schurz, a newsman whose family's nationwide media group includes The Herald-Mail, died Wednesday morning at home, his family said. He was 76.

Schurz, who lived near Williamsport, had lung cancer, said his wife, Mary Ann.

Schurz's news career included about 18 years with The Herald-Mail. He was editor for about 12 years, including about 11 when he also was publisher.

In 1986, he became a senior vice president of Schurz Communications Inc. (SCI) in South Bend, Ind.

Schurz Communications acquired The Herald-Mail in 1960, eight years before Schurz joined the paper as assistant managing editor. SCI now publishes 13 daily and seven weekly newspapers and owns nine TV stations, 13 radio stations and two cable companies, its Web site says.

Journalism was central to his life, but family time mattered, too.

"Our family saying was, 'We love laughter,'" even silly humor, Mary Ann Schurz said.

Advertisement

They also regularly watched the TV quiz show "Jeopardy!" as a family and competed at home.

In addition to his youngest son, Nick Mohar-Schurz, Jim Schurz had four adult sons.

In 1989, all four graduated from either high school, college or graduate school, said Todd Schurz, his oldest son. To see them all graduate that summer, Jim Schurz traveled to California, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

"He took great pride in his sons," said Todd Schurz, SCI's president and CEO.

Jim Schurz also loved Rascal, his 13-year-old cocker spaniel, his wife said. An oil painting in their home depicts Rascal in Schurz's lap.

John League, The Herald-Mail's editor and publisher, said Schurz believed in the power and principles of journalism.

"Jim wanted a paper where the reader was served and the community was served, not the newspaper's interest," League said.

Charles Pittman, who took over leadership of SCI's newspapers from Schurz in 2002, said Schurz's philosophy was: "Newspapers should love their community. A newspaper should be the community's best friend, but also its harshest critic."

Schurz served as the president of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association in 1981 and 1982.

In 2004, he was elected to MDDC's Newspaper Hall of Fame.

In an interview after his induction was announced, he said, "I'm very honored and a little disappointed in myself. I would rather not be in the spotlight."

Other Herald-Mail employees remembered Schurz for his low-key approach, an unassuming leader with a sharp sense of humor.

"It was a hands-off arrangement," said Bob Fleenor, who works on The Herald-Mail's Web site. "But when he was here, you knew it. That voice pretty much filled the building."

"He was a friend from the start," reporter Marlo Barnhart said.

Although she was an intern when she met Schurz in 1968, "he always insisted, 'Call me Jim.' I had a hard time with that," she said.

Schurz took a leave of absence to be a staff assistant to President Nixon in 1972. He was hired to work on various projects, including writing speeches.

Schurz served as assistant managing editor, managing editor and associate editor before he became editor in 1973 and publisher in 1974.

He oversaw The Herald-Mail's move into its current home at 100 Summit Ave. in Hagerstown in 1979.

Before coming to Hagerstown, he worked at the San Francisco Examiner for about 11 years.

When he started with the Examiner in 1956, his gross pay was $60 per week, he said during a 2004 interview. Yet, "I was so happy," he said. "If I could have afforded it, I wouldn't have taken a paycheck."

Schurz said during that interview that his proudest moments as The Herald-Mail's publisher involved watching people learn and excel.

"When you run a newspaper," he said, "I think the publisher is really insignificant if you have good folks working for you. If you stumble, they'll ignore you and do the right thing."

League said Schurz hired like-minded people to produce the newspaper, then stepped back and let them do their jobs.

Fleenor said Schurz led quietly when he was publisher, "but he had our backs."

Pittman said Schurz told him: "Don't let profits be your motive."

Nick Mohar-Schurz said his father had a humble attitude toward newspaper leadership. As a newspaper publisher, he considered himself a steward of an "institution of the people," Mohar-Schurz said.

It was under Jim Schurz and his brother, Franklin Schurz Jr., a previous publisher, that The Herald-Mail expanded its coverage into West Virginia and Pennsylvania as a service to its Hagerstown-area core. Then, readers in those states became customers, too, forcing other local newspapers to keep up, League said.

When Schurz moved to SCI's corporate office in 1986, "there was no change," Barnhart said. "He still had that crooked smile and that rumpled hair."

He didn't change his address, either. League said Schurz fell in love with the Hagerstown area, so he commuted to South Bend from his Williamsport-area home when he worked for SCI.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|